5 Must-Do’s for Writing Inclusive Job Descriptions

April 9, 2018

When Buffer realized that less than 2% of its candidates for developer positions were women, its leaders naturally wanted to figure out why. To do that, they met with Angie Chang, VP of Hackbright Academy, who pointed to one surprising reason: a single word they were using in their job descriptions.

The word was “hackers,” which Buffer was using to refer to its developers. Angie explained that certain words, like hacker, are difficult for some candidates (namely women) to identify with and was likely turning them away. This was an eye-opening lesson for Buffer’s execs and they quickly started adjusting their job descriptions.

Cleary, even something minor—like a word—can affect whether or not you are attracting a diverse talent pool. And, with diversity and inclusion among the biggest and most important trends in talent acquisition, companies need to make sure their job descriptions are inclusive too. Here are a few simple tweaks you can make to your job descriptions to do just that:

1. Avoid gender-coded words, like “rockstar,” “ninja,” and “dominate”

As Buffer learned, being mindful with your job description vocabulary can make a big difference. Studies show that gender-coded words can significantly reduce the number of women applying to your open positions, even though this type of bias is usually unconscious.

To make your job descriptions more inclusive, start by taking gendered words like “ninja,” “rock star,” or “guru” out of your job titles and replacing them with more straightforward titles, like “developer” or “sales representative.” These titles may have less flair, but they’re also more inclusive and less likely to turn off candidates who feel they don’t fit the image you’re putting out.

Next, go through and remove any other gender-coded words that might pop up throughout your descriptions—for both men and women. Here is a list of gendered words, according to a study from Duke University and the University of Waterloo:

Keep these words in mind when writing your job descriptions and, to make things simple, you can also use Textio Hire—an online tool that analyzes job descriptions and suggests improvements to make the language more appealing to all applicants. Similarly, the Gender Decoder tool can tell you right away whether your job ad leans too much towards either feminine or masculine-coded words.

2. Limit your job requirements to “must-haves”

Your hiring manager might have an unending list of qualifications in mind for a given role, but in order to highlight your commitment to inclusion, it’s important to trim the list down. That’s because studies show that while men are likely to apply to jobs for which they meet only 60% of the qualifications, women are much more likely to hesitate unless they meet 100% of the listed requirements.

Instead of including all of the “nice-to-haves” that a dream candidate might possess, stick to the “must-haves,” and you’ll likely see your applications from women candidates increase. Or if you’d still like to call out certain desired skills, you can soften the message with language like “familiarity with,” “bonus points for,” or “if you have any combination of these skills.”

That said, it’s a good idea to cut down your long lists not matter what—one study found that the average jobseeker spends just 49.7 seconds reviewing a listing before deciding it’s not a fit.

3. Avoid using unnecessary corporate speak and jargon

One of the quickest ways to turn off candidates is to include loads of unnecessary jargon in your descriptions. That includes things like KPIs, procurement, SLAs, P&L, and so on. While candidates with plenty of experience in a similar role might know what you’re talking about, studies show jargon and corporate language in job postings is one of the biggest barriers keeping talented young people from applying to entry-level positions. These subtle word choices can make some candidates feel unqualified for a position that they’re absolutely qualified for.

“Insider language is a quick way to make someone else feel like an outsider, but if you’re not watching out for it, acronyms and ‘company speak’ will inevitably creep into your job descriptions,” says HubSpot’s Hannah Fleishman. “When in doubt, assume the candidate doesn’t know the ins-and-outs of your company.”

For example, instead of using mystifying acronyms and sales terms in your requirements, aim for more universal wording, like “pays attention to details” or “personable with customers.”

4. Emphasize your company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion

If your company is already making major strides toward becoming a more welcoming and inclusive place to work, you might want to consider including this in your job descriptions.

While you can simply state at the bottom that you are “an equality opportunity employer,” a statement in your own words is more powerful.

Here’s an example from IBM:

IBM is committed to creating a diverse environment and is proud to be an equal opportunity employer. All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, national origin, genetics, disability, age, or veteran status.

And here is one from Viacom:

Viacom is an equal opportunity employer.

Viacom recruits, employs, trains, compensates and promotes regardless of race, religion, color, national origin, sex, disability, age, veteran status, and other protected status as required by applicable law.

At Viacom, we have a clear vision: to be the place where a diverse mix of talented people want to come, to stay and do their best work. We pride ourselves on bringing the best entertainment to our audiences around the world, and we know our company runs on the hard work and dedication of our passionate and creative employees.

Viacom’s dedication to promoting diversity, multiculturalism, and inclusion is clearly reflected in all of our content and across all of our brands.  Diversity is more than a commitment at Viacom—it is the foundation of what we do. We are fully focused on equality and believe deeply in diversity of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, national origin and all the other fascinating characteristics that make us different. 

If appropriate, you can also mention inclusion-related initiatives, like hosting employee resource groups (ERGs) or mentorship programs for women or people of color.

5. Call out inclusive benefits like parental leave and childcare subsidies

You already know that benefits like paid parental leave, childcare subsidies, paid family sick time, and even health insurance go a long way toward supporting diversity and inclusion, while also boosting retention and morale. If your company offers these benefits, you may not realize the need to call them out in job descriptions—since not every employee will necessarily benefit from them—but mentioning them gives you an opportunity to prove your commitment to inclusion right away.  

You don’t have to include every benefit, but adding a few perks to your postings doesn’t hurt. After all, your job posting is likely to be your first touch point with a candidate, and jobseekers with families (or who are looking to start families at some point) will see the benefits mentioned in your descriptions as signals of your larger company values.

Because we all have biases that can be unconscious and unintentional, it’s always a good idea to revisit your job descriptions and make tweaks to make them more inclusive and, if applicable, showoff the great work your company is already doing to boost diversity and inclusion.

*Image from IBM

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